DMI is exploring new methods to develop an efficient gene knockout system for eukaryotic microalgae

Designer Microbes Incorporated (DMI), a genetic engineering company from London, Ontario specializing in sustainable energy production and agriculture has been awarded a combined Ontario Centres of Excellence Inc. (OCE) and NSERC ENGAGE grant of $45,000 to develop cost-effective ways to produce biofuels, medicines and vaccines from genetically-engineering algae. This research project will be done in collaboration with Dr David Edgell lab at Western University.

The market for biologically synthesized products is significantly large. A Statistics Canada Bioproducts Production and Development Survey from 2009 estimated the revenue generation of the Canadian bioproducts industry to be atleast $1.3 billion CDN. In 2013, this industry in the United States alone was worth $369 billion USD with four million new jobs being created. Industry experts estimate that industrial chemicals made through genetic engineering and biotechnology currently represent a $1.5 billion USD market and it is likely to expand at a rate of 15 % to 25 % annually in the foreseeable future. In 2013-2014, bio-based products have contributed to atleast 15% of the European Union gross domestic product.

This project aims to utilize micro-algae which are water-dwelling organisms that grow in seas, freshwaters and wastewater and hold great promise for an environmental-friendly, sustainable and cost-effective method to manufacture medicine, food and fuel. With additional genetic engineering modifications, this project aims to utilize algae as user-friendly drug-delivery systems, micro-chemical factories and chewable vaccines.

However, current progress in harnessing the untapped potential of micro-algae has been hundred by a lack of reliable biological techniques to produce resources. Current technologies are impractical, slow and expensive.

The combined expertise of Dr. Bogumil Karas, the president and chief scientific officer of DMI and Dr. David Edgell of Western University is a step forward in solving these problems. Dr. Karas has developed methodologies to manipulate and insert large fragments of genetic material into micro-algae in an efficient way. Dr. Edgell has invented highly precise genetic scissors which are universal rather than having to customize scissors for each gene to ensure accurate and fail-safe genetically engineered micro-algae. Together, they hope to introduce these techniques which will be sped up a hundred-fold, highly specific and thus low toxicity.

The project aims to create a first-of-its-kind library of genetically engineered micro-algae with different tweaks in its genome such as oil content for biofuel production,  ability to work in toxic environments and efficient production of biological products. They plan to license this library to other larger companies, providing a revenue source for DMI. This economic model has been shown to be highly successful as in the case of biotechnology companies genetically engineering plants and mice to screen for various pharmaceuticals and genetic diseases.

Both DMI and Western University are located in a vibrant bio-industrial region of in SW Ontario. With a veritable mix of biotechnology companies, colleges and universities in the region, this project hopes to generate enrolment into synthetic biology and biotechnology programs, foster academic-industrial partnerships to bring revenues to universities and companies in the forms of grant proposals and increases enrolments.

DMI aims to be a leader in genetic tools development and offer a biological resource to a plethora of industrial needs in the areas of agriculture, medicine, biofuels and biotechnology by the concerted and efficient methodology of manipulating genes and proteins for beneficial purposes.

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